Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Friday, June 12, 2009

LifeLock 400 Preview

After a week in which it was revealed that Jeremy Mayfield allegedly tested positive for meth and Brendan Gaughan's crew chief in the Nationwide Series was suspended indefinitely for allegedly using a racial slur against driver Marc Davis (way to show everyone NASCAR's not a redneck sport, guys ...), isn't it nice to know we're just going to go racing again this weekend?

The Sprint Cup Series comes to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the LifeLock 400, the first of two trips to the 2-mile oval just outside Detroit. Michigan's economic devastation will be in the spotlight this week, particularly with two of the auto industry's biggest hitters -- Chrysler and GM -- in the middle of bankruptcy.

How that will ultimately affect Dodge and Chevrolet in NASCAR remains to be seen (Dodge has already reportedly stopped paying Richard Petty Motorsports and Chevrolet has reportedly cut support to its Truck Series and Nationwide Series teams), but the race should provide a moment of happiness for the automakers.

Well, unless a Toyota wins. That'll sour a few moods in Michigan.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race last year, to date his only points-paying win for Hendrick Motorsports. He took the race under caution by playing the fuel mileage game, one of the rare good calls made by former crew chief Tony Eury Jr. While it was expected at the time the win would open the proverbial flood gates, the exact opposite seems to have happened.

But we already know about the No. 88's struggles this season (27th at Pocono -- third such finish in the last five races), so let's concentrate on other things -- notably, the fact that Michigan seems to be Jack Roush's personal playground. Roush loves coming to Michigan, and he puts in more effort here than almost anywhere else in the series. Carl Edwards won here last August, his second career Michigan win, while Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth also have two wins apiece there.

Six wins in the last seven years at Michigan for Roush; if you're busy setting up your fantasy roster for this weekend's race, you better get yourself a nice helping of Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth. Edwards, especially; since his early-season struggles, the preseason title favorite has three top-10 finishes, including a fourth at Charlotte and a runner-up finish to Tony Stewart last week at Pocono.

Edwards was the dominant car last week, losing when Stewart beat him out of the pits on the last stop and having to conserve fuel late. But make no mistake; the No. 99 team is hitting its stride, and if Edwards can knock out a win or two as the summer rolls along, he should nicely solidify himself into the Chase field.

But don't forget Biffle, who's always strong as Michigan, or Kenseth. Kenseth, after winning the Daytona 500 to open the season, also won at Michigan's sister track in Fontana. Though it's been a little bit of a struggle since then for the No. 17, Kenseth has been strong of late, and there's no better place for a Roush driver to come than Michigan to get right.

Stewart has one career win at Michigan to go along with nine top-5s and 13 top-10s, which will go along nicely with the momentum he's built. Not just the win at Pocono, but in seven of his last nine races, Stewart has finished fourth or better.

No wonder he's leading the point standings.

Jimmie Johnson is surprisingly pedestrian at Michigan -- no wins in 14 career starts -- but the way his team has run the last two weeks, he has to be considered among the favorites. The No. 48 usually doesn't hit its stride this soon, but with a convincing win at Dover, and a top-10 at Pocono despite running out of fuel on the last lap, Johnson is starting to come into his own, and I think he'll have something to say on Sunday.

Speaking of fuel, Michigan races do occasionally come down to fuel mileage (see last year's race). That could inevitably throw a monkey wrench into things, and if that's the case, then there's really no telling who can win. To be fair, though, Edwards showed last season he could save a lot of fuel (he even did so last week at Pocono ... he just happened to be behind Stewart because of that late pit stop).

Still, even with that potential variable, I'm picking Edwards to win this race. I realize this is the third time I've picked him this season, and we've still yet to see the backflip, but this is Michigan, and the way Edwards has been running of late, it's only a matter of time before we see the No. 99 back in Victory Lane.

So why not Michigan?

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